Around the year 1000 a Viking exploration party landed on a fertile land to the west of Greenland. As was the Viking tradition, they claimed the land as their own, calling it Vinland, and built stone houses to mark their arrival.
This did not fare well with the natives, however, who attacked the Vikings and drove them back to their ships and onto Greenland.
But the thought of Vinland and its riches never left the Vikings. So a few years later a better planned and resourced expedition again left for Vinland.
Enter the Murderous Freydis
Among the explorers was the Viking king’s sister, Freydis. Freydis had been on the original expedition and was a celebrated heroin for her role in helping fight off the aboriginal attack until the women and children were safely on the ships.
Having been on the original expedition and involved in the house building effort, Freydis had her heart set on one particular stone house.
The problem was that two other families on the expedition arrived before Freydis’ ship and claimed the house. And their claim was legitimate. Viking law stipulated that in abandoned lands the first to arrive got to take their pick of the houses.
It was not good enough for Freydis. Being the king’s sister, Freydis was used to getting what she wanted. The law was no excuse for Freydis. So she ordered them out.
Understandably, the families held their ground stating that the law was paramount and, in this case, was on their side. An argument erupted between the two parties and ended with Freydis killing the heads of the two families.
While illegal, it was within limit for the king’s sister of a violent culture. But Freydis did not stop there. She was so enraged that she ordered her bodyguards to kill the wife and children of the two families as well. When they refused she took the axe and slaughtered them herself.
The King’s Dilemma
This was serious problem for the Viking king, Leif. The Vikings, being a highly armed society, took the law seriously and killing of women and children was the ultimate crime.
But he could not kill his sister either because another law made it illegal to kill your siblings. The king was in a bind. Either way he was going to break a law, in which case there was a strong chance that he would be ousted as king.
So he did what many leaders do today – hushed up the entire incident. He banned Freydis from ever entering Greenland as well as ordering that Vinland was never to be returned to or spoken of again.
And so, despite discovering it 5 centuries before other European countries, the Vikings never returned to America.
“How different this world would have been,” postulates Bill Fawcett in his book, 100 Mistakes That Changed History, “if the Norsemen had settled and stayed. The Native Americans most likely would have absorbed European Technology and culture in smaller doses.
“Without rifles and cannons, there was no way for just a few Europeans to be able to come to dominate or destroy the native cultures on two continents. At the very least, northern Europe, not Spain, would have benefited from the wealth of the new continent.”
All because an angry Viking lost her temper.
The Moral of the Story
In business there are many opportunities to lose your cool. Whether it is in a meeting or over email, losing one’s temper is an ever-present danger. What Freydis’ story shows is that anger, more often than not, leads to poor decisions and costs you dearly.
The next time you are about to lose your cool and write an angry letter or email, pause for a minute. Put the letter in a drawer (or in your email drafts folder) and return to it a couple of days later.
If you still think that it is the right thing to say then send it. But you will probably find that you were glad you did not send it.
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